15 Years - At Least
Nazim Ibrahimov, Director of Azerbaijan Publishing House
In 1986 and 1987 nearly
1,200 books were being published annually with relatively large
print runs of 25,000 to 50,000 copies. Today, very few books
are being printed - especially in Azeri Latin, the country's
Nazim Ibrahimov has been Director of the Azerbaijan Publishing
House for the past seven years. Prior to that, he served in the
Cabinet of Ministers. We asked him to describe the current publishing
scene and what his company is doing to foster publishing in Latin.
These days we're living through a very crucial transition period
in publishing. In my opinion, it's a period that requires government
planning and direction. I don't mean censorship. I mean simply
that the process should be very well planned and directed especially
with the larger publishing houses.
Right now, less than 10 percent of new books are being published
in Azeri Latin. The government could insist on 40 percent in
Azeri Latin and the rest in Azeri Cyrillic. Three years from
now, the ratio could be increased to 80 percent Latin. But one
of our problems is that we don't have very many editors who can
work with the Latin script.
Just as the Ministry of Health licenses clinics and hospitals,
the government should license publishing houses and direct them
as to the kinds of books they should be publishing to cover the
needs of schools and institutes.
Photo: Kids who learned Azeri Latin in primary
school are now almost ready to enter the university. Unfortunately,
there's been so little available for them in the Latin script
except a few text books. At the university, all texts are still
in Cyrillic-Azeri and Russian.
If we want the younger generation to grow up to be intelligent
and productive, we need to make the classics available to them
in our new official Latin script. Consider that the majority
of classes in our institutes and universities hardly have a single
textbook and classes are based entirely on the professors' lectures.
There's a big difference in the quality of instruction between
lectures and textbooks. At least 50 percent of a lecture is based
on the professor's personal opinion and yet students have nothing
else to refer to. It's a real shame.
And the textbooks that we do have are usually outdated - 10 and
20 years old. Science and technology have changed tremendously
in the last years and it's important that we reflect this progress
in the books that we offer our youth.
Even if we do manage to publish the fundamental textbooks for
public schools, there are few reference books and texts being
published for students in Azeri Latin at the university level.
The first students who learned Latin are already in the 11th
grade and will soon graduate from high school. Our own generation
grew up reading great thinkers such as Nizami, Fuzuli, Samad
Vurghun, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Lermontov, Shakespeare and Dumas.
But what have we published for the younger generation to read?
None of these classic writers are available to them in Azeri
Latin. The truth is that our youth is being deprived of fundamental
education that even their parents and grandparents received.
Right now, we're not receiving any orders from the government
for school textbooks. Three years ago, we used to publish all
of them, but today it seems they are being published elsewhere.
The quality is very bad as it seems they are being printed almost
on newsprint. I think it's a crime. It's very bad for vision
and, besides, it doesn't meet up to sanitation standards. Printing
companies should not mix commerce with textbook publishing. I
think it's possible to publish good quality textbooks and make
money at the same time. Unfortunately, since we are not getting
the textbook orders these days, we are only operating at 30 percent
our capacity. Only one shift works.
In the 1980s, our publishing strategy was based on the fact that
we thought that every Azerbaijani intellectual should have 180
to 200 books in his own private library. Therefore, we set out
to publish 100 volumes of world literature, 20 of which were
Azerbaijan's own classics.
We also prepared 50 volumes in a series called the World Children's
Literature Library; 14 of these were Azeri classics. Most of
the Russian classics had already been translated into Azeri so
we merely had to choose which ones we wanted to publish.
Ganjlik (Youth) Publishing House did the children's volumes.
At the time, many people complained that we would run into financial
problems, but the opposite happened. Ganjlik became a profitable
company because of that one project alone. About 50,000 sets
were produced but only 32 of the 100 volumes for adults were
finished while I was directing the company. The remainder has
never been completed. We also published 10 volumes of the Azerbaijan
Soviet Encyclopedia, make a total of about 200 books that we
With the technology available to us today, it's very easy to
publish those same books in Azeri Latin as they have already
been translated into Azeri; they only need to be converted to
the Latin script. Even though there are about 100 other publishing
houses in Baku, none of them is publishing these valuable texts.
For example, nobody is publishing our poets Nizami or Fuzuli.
It used to be that Azerbaijan Publishing House only published
newspapers and magazines. In 1993, we started publishing books
as well. We're considered the publishing house of the President's
Office, but we don't receive any aid from the government. We
buy our own computers and equipment. When I first came to the
publishing house in 1993, it was still part of the Cabinet of
Ministers. When President Aliyev asked me to take the position,
I promised to do everything I couldunder one condition:
only if the publishing house were made independent of the Ministry.
And so, it was agreed.
When I arrived, everything was in bad condition. Machines were
broken and we had collected considerable debts. Some people suggested
that we apply for a government loan. But I knew that if we took
credit from the government, we would become dependent upon them.
Besides, I wasn't sure that we could pay back a loan as we have
During this difficult period, some of our customers took their
book orders to Turkey or Dubai and now it's very hard to attract
them back. Even though our standards are much better than in
the past, people still have this perception that the quality
will be better if they print abroad.
Since so few books are available, we feel that each one that
we print must be essential to society. Our press has a policy
of printing very important books in both Cyrillic and Latin,
although Cyrillic will gradually disappear.
For instance, Mobil [before it merged with Exxon] helped us publish
the first volume of "Anthology of Oghuz Poetry of 1500 Years"
in both Latin and Cyrillic. It's a large volume of 930 pages.
Our printing house is the only place where you can publish such
a sizable book in Azerbaijan. We also have published "The
Greatness of Dada Gorgud," prepared by Elchin and a five-volume
set called "The History of Azerbaijan's Oil."
We've done several literary works featuring the poet Fuzuli and
other writers such as Magsud Ibrahimbeyov, Bakhtiyar Vahabzade,
Zalimkhan Yagub and Mammad Araz. The Cabinet of Ministers commissioned
us to publish the Azerbaijani Constitution in German, Russian,
English, French and Azeri.
A few years ago we published the Encyclopedia of our great composer
Uzeyir Hajibeyov and now we're working on an encyclopedia dedicated
to the works of Jalil Mammadguluzade in Azeri Latin. Mammadguluzade
published "Molla Nasraddin" (1906-1932) at a time when
there was no such magazine in the East satirizing social conditions.
Our work is critical to the intellectual growth of our nation.
If we recognize the importance of our task, and plan carefully
and if this transition period is coordinated well, I think that
our transition process from Azeri Cyrillic to Latin can be completed
in 10 to 15 years.
(8.1) Spring 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.
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